In our June 2008 Special Topic on mesoporous materials,
the work of Dr. Galen Stucky ranked at #2 by total
citations, #7 by total papers, and #1 by cites/paper, based
on 61 papers cited a total of 9,833 times. Seven of these
papers ranked in the list of the 20 most-cited over the
Science IndicatorsSM from
Reuters, Dr. Stucky's citation record includes 243
papers, the majority of which are classified in either
Chemistry or Materials Science, cited a total of 17,296
times between January 1, 1998 and August 31, 2008. He is
also a Highly Cited Researcher in the field of Materials
Dr. Stucky hails from the University of California, Santa Barbara,
where he is the E. Khashoggi Industries, LLC Professor in Letters and
Science, as well as Professor in the Department of Chemistry &
Biochemistry, Professor in the Materials Department, and a member of the
Interdepartmental Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He is also
an Honorary Professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and a
Visiting Professor at Peking University in Beijing. He has received
numerous awards for his work and sits on the editorial boards of multiple
In the interview below,
he talks with ScienceWatch.com correspondent Gary
Taubes about his work in mesoporous
What factors or circumstances led you to your
A key point is that the research we’re discussing is an offshoot of
work that was published five years earlier. In 1993, we published a paper
in Science (Monnier A, et al., "Cooperative formation of
inorganic-organic interfaces in the synthesis of silicate
mesostructures," 261: 1299-1303, 3 September 1993), which
had to do with the cooperative formation of inorganic/organic interfaces in
the synthesis of silicate mesostructures. In that paper we developed a
concept that, as far as I know, was unique and new. It had to do with
considering the assembly as a cooperative process. This was using charged
surfactants and thinking about it collectively, in terms of all the species
present, and doing so not only in the context of the thermodynamics but
also in the context of the kinetics of the assembly of these species. It
was a systems synthesis approach.
"Once you get into these kinds of
polymers, there are all kinds of variations
and you definitely open up a big area of
Alain Monnier was the lead author and he was more of a physicist. Ferdie
Schüth was involved; he’s now vice president of the German
equivalent of our NSF. Quisheng Huo was on that paper. He was a brilliant
postdoc of mine. The idea we had there was that when you’re trying to
make domains of organics and domains of inorganics, the challenges are
preventing phase separation and defining the interface between organic and
inorganic to make this happen. And what we said was that you can’t do
it considering thermodynamics alone—you also have to consider
The really key breakthrough, though, was the paper that is now listed as my
fifth most-cited. It was published in 1994 in Nature: "Generalized
synthesis of periodic surfactant inorganic composite materials," (Huo Q,
et al., 368: 317-21, 24 March 1994). The first author there
was Quisheng Huo, then David Margolies, and another postdoc, Ulrike Ciesla.
What we developed in that paper was a way to use the isoelectric point of
the inorganic—the point at which the inorganic species has a zero
charge—as the basis for creating organized inorganic/organic
interfaces and structures. That was a new strategy. No mesostructure had
ever been made under those conditions.
Since that time, all subsequent work, including my two most-cited papers in
your analysis, has really just been extensions of this earlier
Nature paper. It turned out that the strategy we presented in that
Nature paper was just a very effective way to create
mesostructured materials. And we showed you could make different kinds of
structures, shapes, and forms. Those two papers—the '93
Science paper and the '94 Nature paper—were the
foundation of everything that followed.
What made the 1998 Science paper (Zhao DY,
et al. "Triblock copolymer synthesis of mesoporous silica
with periodic 50 to 300 Angstrom probes," 279: 548-52, 23
January 1998) so special?
The 1998 work was all done with neutral, triblock polymers—nonionic,
neutral polymers. From a practical point of view, that’s a very good
way to go. These were cheaper than anything we were using before;
they’re more environmentally compatible. They don’t have any
quaternary ammoniums, which makes the EPA happy.
Why do you think it garnered nearly 2,500
references in a decade? That’s quite a remarkable
Well, we showed several key things in that paper. First, it is a very, very
simple preparation. Simple in the sense that if you took the chemistry
described in the 1994 Nature paper and added triblock to it, you
got the product. It’s that simple. And triblock is an inexpensive
polymer. So this work in '98 extended this whole thing to polymers, and
particularly to cheap, accessible polymers that can be made in large bulk
quantities. And they have no environmental hang-ups, so it opens up the
field of potential applications a great deal. The other aspect is that
we’re going from charged to uncharged materials. So the interactions
are much more direct in this case. You do away with the anion you carry
along as extra baggage in the previous approach.
Was there any element of serendipity to this
There’s one thing: I was lucky enough to have brilliant people to
work with. Dongyuan Zhao, the first author on the 1998 Science and
JACS (Zhao DY, et al., "Nonionic triblock and star
diblock copolymer and oligomeric surfactant syntheses of highly ordered,
hydrothermally stable, mesoporous silica structures," 120: 6024-36, 24
June 1998) papers, was my postdoc. He was a physical chemist originally.
When he got here, he joined up with Peidong Yang, another of my postdocs
who is now at Berkeley. He’s now very famous and has won many awards.
Quisheng Huo was caught up in the tail end of that. Dave Margolies was with
me as a graduate student and another co-author was one of my colleagues,
Brad Chmelka. So things just kind of fell into place in that way; I
happened to have very good people that got together at the right time in
the right place. They knew what had to be done and how to do it. It was
amazing how things were going at the time, just flying.
Are you surprised by how influential the 1998
Science paper has been, or did you expect it?
"No mesostructure had ever been made
under those conditions."
Well, for some very practical reasons this paper just took off. I would not
have predicted it. I knew it was important; that’s why we submitted
it to Science. We thought it would have a major impact in the
field, no question about that. Once you get into these kinds of polymers,
there are all kinds of variations and you definitely open up a big area of
research and applications. So I never meant to imply that the paper
wasn’t important, but it very much evolved out of that earlier work.
Your critical papers seem to be pretty evenly
divided between Science and Nature. How did you
decide which one you would submit a particular paper to?
In the old days, in the 1990s, if you wanted to reach as broad an audience
as possible, your choices were pretty much Science or
Nature. So I just went about 50-50. I knew the editors back then
and I knew they had certain tastes regarding what they thought was right
for their audience. I tried to submit papers to them that I felt would best
fit into their agendas. Since then, of course, Nature has split up
into Nature Materials, Nature Biotech, etc., and Science
is definitely not as materials-oriented as it used to be. Now it’s a
much different game.
So where do you go now for articles you think
should be read widely?
I end up going to Nature Materials a fair amount. We’re
materials scientists, basically. So much of what we do falls into that
category. I also publish in PNAS for high-impact articles.
How has the research on mesostructured materials
evolved since that flurry of influential papers in 1998?
One direction it's gone is to use these silica frameworks like
three-dimensional lithography. This is an idea developed by Ryong Ryoo in
Korea. You fill them up with other compositions, then dissolve the silica,
and you have this mesostructured new material. If you fill them up with
carbon and dissolve away the silica, you have a carbon mesostructure. You
can fill them up with high-melting inorganics and grow crystals, things
like that. Dongyuan Zhao, in particular, has really opened up the field in
using molecular synthesis to make different compositions. He’s
explored many dimensions of these mesostructured materials.
Another direction came out of another very important paper we published
back in 1998 in Nature, "Generalized syntheses of large-pore
mesoporous metal oxides with semicrystalline frameworks," (Yang PD, et al.,
396: 152-5, 12 November 1998). In that paper Peidong Yang figured out
a way to make transition metal oxides that had semicrystalline walls,
unlike silica, which is amorphous. The walls, in fact, were three
dimensional, made of nanocrystals. In the last 10 years, there have been
many variations made on this. Compositional control and structural control
over these kinds of materials has really been developed superbly by various
groups around the world for different purposes.
The potential applications have been evolving rapidly as well. A key point
is that the pores in these materials are big enough to hold proteins. So
you can now do size-selective protein separation. You can incorporate
enzymes into these materials, and they’ll still continue to function
as enzymes, comparable to what they do in solution. You can use these
enzymes as supports for catalysis, for biomolecules, things like that. So
that’s another direction that this field has gone. I should mention
also that these pores are good for processing heavy crude oils. I’m
not sure how much I should say about that, but I can say that these
materials have definite potential for that application.
Which of your professional achievements brings you
the most satisfaction?
The papers I really feel good about are the one in Nature in 1994
and the one in Science, the year earlier. Those two. Because, in
those papers, we really laid out the fundamentals of the science and how to
make these materials. And those fundamentals have really held up quite
well. They’ve been very useful to the science community and to the
people who are making things out of these materials.
I have to explain how I think about this. When I work on a synthesis
problem, I’m trying to make a platform. I want something on which I
can create many different possibilities, many different possible products,
or potential configurations of this synthesis process I’m developing.
So say I want a magnetic mesostructure, or a mesostructure that can be used
for a computer chip (which we published a paper about early on showing this
would be a good idea), this is one way you can do this. And if you want to
make a mesostructure out of iron, or you want it to contain titanium, this
is how to do it. So what I feel good about is developing a fundamental
approach that allows you to do all these things, to use it as a platform to
create different compositions, different kinds of structures, different
pore sizes, shapes, cages, channels, whatever you want. It’s hugely
flexible. That’s what I feel very good about.
Galen Stucky, Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA, USA